At 5’7, 150 pounds it would be easy to write James Marcou off, but after his international experience with Team USA, his rookie season in the USHL with the Waterloo Black Hawks, and his commitment to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the hockey world is on notice that this speedy, diminutive forward plays with an edge to compensate and has no fear.
Marcou came to the Black Hawks from the New York Bobcats of the Atlantic Junior Hockey League, an upstart junior A league that is only three seasons old but already sending players to the USHL and college hockey. Trained by Lithuanian coach Aleksey Nikiforov, who immigrated to the United States in 1991, Marcou benefited from the Russian training over the years under Nikiforov with Suffolk PAL and, later, the Bobcats system. The training paid off, as the Kings Park, New York, native scored 20 goals and 29 assists in 35 games for the Bobcats and played in the AJHL All-Star Game. More importantly, his years on Long Island in the Bobcats system also gained the attention of Team USA.
USA Hockey called upon Marcou for the U17 Four Nations Cup in November 2004 in nearby Rochester, New York. The only player on Team USA not in the U.S. National Developmental Program, Marcou scored three goals and added an assist as Team USA won the gold medal. Marcou went on to play for Team USA again at the World U17 Hockey Challenge in Lethbridge, Alberta, in late December and early January. Team USA finished fifth at the event, which also featured five Canadian U17 teams (Pacific, West, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic) and Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Germany. Although Marcou only tallied one assist at the tournament, he and Kyle Okposo were the only players not in the U.S. National Developmental Program playing on the team.
Prior to the 2005-06 USHL season, Team USA called upon Marcou again to play in the U18 Junior World Cup in Slovakia and the Czech Republic in August. Marcou tallied two assists in five games and then returned to Waterloo to begin his first USHL season.
Early on, Marcou suffered what could have been a major setback. In a game against Cedar Rapids Oct. 7, Marcou was hit hard by Roughrider Ray Kaunisto, giving the diminutive forward a concussion. A favorable USHL schedule allowed Marcou to return after only two games, and he kept playing the same scrappy style of hockey he played before the big hit.
Team USA again called on Marcou to play in the Viking Cup in Camrose, Alberta, in late December and early January. Marcou scored two goals and two assists, which finished with the bronze medal after beating Switzerland 6-2. The Viking Cup seemed to be a turning point for Marcou, as he began finding the net more at the USHL level, carrying him to a respectable 18 goals and 14 assists in 51 games for the Black Hawks.
Having committed to the UMass prior to the 2005-06 season, Marcou is currently considering whether he will return for one more season of development in the USHL or if he’ll go to UMass as an 18-year-old. Possessing excellent speed with a great deal of hustle, Marcou has the ability to create offense, but he’s also a tenacious forechecker who finishes his checks, is incredibly pesky, and play much bigger than his size. Should he return to the USHL, Marcou would likely average a point per game with the Black Hawks in 2006-07.
Hockey’s Future recently caught up with the future Minuteman and discussed his adjustment to the USHL, his experience with Team USA, and his "no fear" style.
HF: Well, the Black Hawks season is over, what are some of your reflections on the USHL and how your season went?
JM: It’s a great league, it’s a grind. It’s over 60 games with the preseason. I think I had a pretty good year for the rookie season, but I just wish our team had done better. Can’t do anything about it, could work out next year and come back.
HF: So, are you planning on coming back next year or going to UMass?
JM: No, I’m not sure yet, undecided still.
HF: You came from the Atlantic Junior Hockey League, how does the USHL compare to the AJHL?
JM: Oh, it’s definitely — you can see the difference. There’s not even a comparison. This league is just unbelievable, the atmosphere of playing in front of 3,000 fans and coming together as a team is a big part of doing well. Just unbelievable.
HF: How much has playing in the USHL helped your development as a player?
JM: A tremendous amount. I don’t think I’d be the same player if hadn’t come here this year.
HF: That said, before playing for Waterloo, you had played for Team USA at a number of tournaments.
JM: Yeah, the Under 17, I did three or four international tournaments, and the Viking Cup this year. It’s like nothing else, representing your country, winning medals, it’s so much fun.
HF: How did the Viking Cup play compare to the regular USHL play, since it was a group of USHL All-Stars?
JM: Definitely a lot of skating skills, not as much physical play as out here. Definitely wide-open hockey, skating, passing, skills.
HF: How did the Alberta junior hockey, you guys played AJHL Team South, compare?
JM: Yeah, they were faster than us. I had a rough game that day. They had a couple of older guys, but what are you going to do?
HF: What brought you to the New York Bobcats in the fairly new Atlantic Junior Hockey League?
JM: Our coach, Aleksey Nikiforov, has trained over 10 NHL players. Alexei Yashin comes and skates with us over the summer and practices, Darius Kasparaitis. Just his skills that he teaches us is amazing.
HF: The Bobcats have a collection of Russian coaches, who are some of the others?
JM: There’s Boris Bykovsky, Vladimir Malakhov comes down and helps us out. It’s just a tremendous atmosphere out there.
HF: Where did you play before you played for New York?
JM: Suffolk PAL. I played with Alexei for over 10 years, I just followed him up.
HF: Did you play junior B or midgets?
HF: What sold you on going to Amherst and playing for Coach Don Cahoon?
JM: That’s the reason, Coach Cahoon. I think he’s going to be a great coach for me. Hopefully I can step in next year or the year after and play and make an impact on the team.
HF: What do you feel are some of the strengths of your game?
JM: Skating and playmaking, scoring goals. I just have to work on my strength and I think everything will be fine.
HF: You’re not real big, but you’re pretty scrappy. I read your motto is, "Respect all, fear none." What’s behind that?
JM: When I went out to the national program our coach, John Hynes, he’s not a big guy either, he just told me to go out there and don’t let the size, play to your strength, you’ve go to make up for your size and play aggressive, and no one can say anything about your size if you get in there.
HF: Early in the season a big guy, Ray Kaunisto, got you pretty good. Tell me about that incident and how you continued to still play your game.
JM: Yeah, just part of the game. He just got me with a good hit at a bad spot. I only missed two games, I didn’t want to let that bother me, the way I played, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to play the same. Just part of the game.
HF: What are your goals with hockey?
JM: Definitely college, and anything above college is an honor.
HF: Do the new NHL rules play to your advantage?
JM: Definitely. Over the summer I’m going to work out and hit the gym, just try to make it there, it’d be great.
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